Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Slipping through our fingers?
Yesterday Peter Horrocks head of BBC News gave a lecture at St Anne's College on the future of BBC News - or as he sees it the future of BBC Newses - with increasingly fragmenting audiences many of whom (the young, minorities and C2s are increasingly turning away from the BBC). The idea of journalists being able to tell people what to think has gone. Instead he says

Any power we once had to tell the audience what to think has evaporated...Our power to instruct the public is slipping through broadcasters' fingers

His concern is in a world where we increasingly choose the news we want to hear (see Helen Boaden's quote last week) it becomes increasingly important for the BBC to be able to remain telling people about stories they might not hear otherwise.

This is a link to Peter Horrocks's full speech Will post more on this later...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Death of Nick Clarke

The death of Nick Clarke is such a sad event. I worked as a reporter on the World at One and PM when Nick was presenting and the tributes that are pouring in are fully justified. His great ability was to remain fearsomely polite - terrifyingly so - when interviewing and sheer lucidity of writing, which when you listened to the programme meant you frequently thought 'Damn, why can't I encapsulate things like that'. He wrote simply but never simplistically, with no unnecessary flourishes.

I particularly liked Eddie Mair's tribute on PM. Devoid of sentimentality, it reminded us that along with his supreme journalistic ability, Nick had his idiosyncrasies - I remember several occasions in G601 when he was incandescent because his vegetarian sausage sandwich was not just as he liked it. Don't even get started on the coffee. I also liked Eddie's anecdote that Nick saw it as a badge of honour never to have interviewed Tony Blair.
His audio diary is well worth listening to again

Update: Andrew Marr's report on Nick's funeral I wish I could learn to do links properly.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Launch of the Reuters Institute of Journalism
To St Anne's College to hear the great and the good at the launch of the Institute Among them, Wahad Khanfar of Al Jazeera International, my old boss Len Downie of the Washington Post and Helen Boaden director of BBC News (so I guess another old boss of mine then). Spotted in the crowd: Ian McEwan, Alan Rusbridger, Sir Crispin Tickell, Liz Forgan
The topic of the speech and the debate was journalism post Iraq...
Some snippets...
Downie admitted that the Post did not listen as much to the sceptics on WMD as they should have done and they did not give stories enough prominence.
Helen Boaden on the changing nature of audiences and how they get their news: "if you are not interested in Africa you never need consume another story about Africa in your life" (Note: she was not advocating this; just pointing out that people can now avoid stories they don't want)
Wahad Khanfar pointed out that AJI was the first place that Israel got an editorial platform in the Arab media - and that AJI was put under huge pressure from governments and intelligence agencies as a result.
Timothy Garton Ash presided - and said he saw himself as an academic who writes journalism as Conor Cruise O'Brien put it "with one foot in each grave". Could that apply to journalists turned aid workers I wonder?
I was sitting next to Prof Adrian Monck who heads up journalism at City University whose waving hand was somehow ignored by Garton Ash. Maybe that's because he wanted to ask Wahad Khanfar whether Al Jazeera English will use the term suicide bombers - which AJI does not...or whether it will use the Arabic term which uses martyrs. He writes about it on his blog this morning -
Meanwhile at dinner I found myself opposite Dr Suzanne Franks who is writing a history of the BBC but has done a lot of the Ethiopian famine of 1984 so we swapped tales of journalists and aid workers....but mainly argued over is there ever such a thing as a natural disaster? Even the tsunami could be said to fail to be a natural disaster given the decision a year earlier to not put warning systems in the region...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Paying for it?
I noticed the following story on Guardian Online yesterday -,,1949140,00.html - about the fact that the BBC is going to pay for some user generated content in future if it is "particularly editorially important or unique."
Hmmm. We'll see what that actually means in future. But I spent the afternoon at the News Interactive Centre at the BBC earlier this week, as UGC is becoming increasingly important when it comes to covering natural disasters. The cliche is that the tsunami was particular because it happened to be a disaster where there were lots of rich Western tourists with video cameras and was thus a one-off.
But according to the BBC journalists that I spoke to the tsunami may have inspired people in disasters that followed to send in emails and footage. The Asia Quake of October 2005 saw 3,000 emails flood in on the first day (including one from Margala Towers a mere eight minutes after it happened). If you look on the BBC website then you can see a wide range of video footage, witness accounts, and photographs sent in by people who were there, rather than journalists. Of particular interest is the photo gallery sent in by Rab Nawaz of WWF who photographed the remote Palasis - peoples that journalists would probably have never got access to.
I don't think UGC will replace journalism as some people seem to fear. But it will be a useful addition for colour stories and eyewitness accounts. The interesting thing for aid agencies is that these are the kind of stories that they have traditionally acted as mediators - setting up case studies, spokespeople etc for journalists - what is their role when the middleman is cut out?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Looking in the mirror
In the past there has been the idea that journalists and aid workers are fundamentally opposed to each other. One group are hardened old hacks the other are weedy humanitarians. But I was listening to a podcast of a debate between journalists and aid workers entitled Children, crises and the media and I heard Gordon Weiss of UNICEF make what I think is a very interesting point:
The crude divide between teddybear carrying journalists* and bleeding heart humanitarians is closing. The transition of the media into 24 hour news cycle means that we don't know what is going to happen. Papers like the Times are going to have to compete with those who can very cheaply travel to those parts of the world and upload their video and news stories or blogs and trigger a news landslide like we saw in Niger
Weiss raises an issue both for the media - who's going to decide what's a story if anyone can generate content and for aid workers - who should they be focusing on to sell their stories too these days?I've just come back from a seminar about the blogosphere at Green College in which John Naughton, an expert in this field and Observer columnist warned against thinking that new media means old media will be wiped -it's just a time of tremendous adaptation, a different media existence. But both journalists and aid workers have to acknowledge that and think what it means for them.

*Weiss was referring to a comment Mail special correspondent Ann Leslie made in the same debate about the old journo trick of taking a teddybear with you to a disaster so that if there are no abandoned kids to photograph in the rubble the snapper can throw a teddy bear into the debris and hey presto, heartwrenching picture. Maybe I am very sheltered but I've never actually seen anyone do this...Honest

Sunday, November 05, 2006

PR - it's always been with us

I went to the Holbein Exhibition at the Tate on Saturday to see a masterpiece in PR - Holbein creating the image that Henry VIII wants us to remember...that of the mega-monarch. Forget the fact that Henry was already beginning to suffer ill-health, was potentially the laughing stock of Europe after disposing of three wives (there's a great portrait of Christina of Denmark who turned down any chance of the King's proposal pointing out that she would gladly marry him if only she had two heads at her disposal) and that the arch- alpha male had managed to father only one rather sickly son....
It made me think again how important the image is...and to try to justify my day trip as as relating to my research, how image is all in deciding which disasters are remembered and which forgotten. Part of the reason that coverage changed for the tsunami and the Pakistani earthquake is because of the flow of images back to the West; in fact the BBC set up a whole new unit of UGC (user generated content) to cope with it.
On a lighter note. I love this picture of Mary Wotton. When Holbein paints her she looks stiff and rather terrified. Here she looks like a tremendous good-time girl.

Friday, November 03, 2006